Half-Staff and Flag FAQs

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What are some of Arizona’s flag-related laws?
  • 41-851. State colors; state flag
  • 41-852. Display of state flag; death of incumbent elective state officer; display of United States flag and Constitution and the Bill of Rights
  • 38-449. Display of POW/MIA flag 
  • 38-450. Display of honor and remember flag
  • 13-3703. Abuse of venerated objects; classification
  • Executive Order 66-6
What are some federal laws relating to flags?
  • United States Flag Code – 4 U.S.C. §§1-10 
      • § 1. Flag; stripes and stars on 
      • § 2. Same; additional stars 
      • § 3. Use of flag for advertising purposes; mutilation of flag 
      • § 4. Pledge of allegiance to the flag; manner of delivery 
      • § 5. Display and use of flag by civilians; codification of rules and customs; definition 
      • § 6. Time and occasions for display 
      • § 7. Position and manner of display 
      • § 8. Respect for flag 
      • § 9. Conduct during hoisting, lowering or passing of flag 
      • § 10. Modification of rules and customs by President
  • Patriotic and National Observances, Ceremonies, and Organizations – 36 U.S.C. Subtitle 1, (§§ 101-2502)
  • National League of Families POW/MIA flag – 36 U.S. Code § 902 

For additional information and analysis about federal laws relating to flags, check out this helpful research document created by the Congressional Research Service in 2008

What precisely is “half-staff”?

According to the U.S. Flag Code, half-staff means “the position of the flag when it is one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff.”  Additionally, the U.S. Flag code directs that flags, “when flown at half-staff, should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position.  The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day.”  

What is the difference between half-staff and half-mast?

The answer to this question may be more grammatical than anything else.  Although a “mast” can refer to any “upright pole,” its primary definition is nautical in nature and relates more specifically to the pole rising above the hull and upper portions of a ship for holding sails, spars, rigging, booms, signals, etc.  Therefore, as the website Grammarist suggests, “a flag flown halfway up its flagpole as a symbol of mourning is at half-staff, and a flag flown halfway up a ship’s mast to signal mourning or distress is at half-mast.”  As CNN concludes, the act of lowering flags is the same but the terminology varies depending on whether the flag is located on land or sea (and at Navy/Marine facilities).  

When should flags be lowered to half-staff?

The U.S. Flag Code outlines the circumstances in which the President shall, and in some cases the governors of U.S. states may, order the U.S. flag to be flown at half-staff.  Those instances include: 

  • Memorial Day when the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff;
  • Upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or possession, by order of the President, as a mark of respect to their memory:
    • 30 days from the death of the President or a former President,
    • 10 days from the day of death of the Vice President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the United States, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives,
    • from the day of death until interment of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a Secretary of an executive or military department, a former Vice President, or the Governor of a State, territory, or possession,
    • on the day of death and the following day for a Member of Congress;
    • In the event of the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to Presidential instructions or orders, or in accordance with recognized customs or practices not inconsistent with law;
  • In the event of the death of a present or former official of the government of any State, territory, or possession of the United States or the death of a member of the Armed Forces from any State, territory, or possession who dies while serving on active duty, the Governor of that State, territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at half-staff…; and
  • Peace Officers Memorial Day, unless that day is also Armed Forces Day.

Other than the two holidays noted in the U.S. Flag Code, there are also three other legally designated days of national observance (Patriot Day, National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, and National Firefighters Memorial Day) in which the U.S. flag is to be flown at half-staff.

Moreover, Arizona law allows the Governor to direct the display of the state flag for all state, institutional and educational buildings of the state.  State law also directs the Arizona flag to be lowered on the death of an incumbent elective state officer for a period of seven days beginning on the day following the death of the officer.

Are there annually occurring designated days in which flags are flown at half-staff?

There are five designated days of national observance in which the U.S. flag is to be flown at half-staff.

Arizona Peace Officers Memorial Day vs. National Peace Officers Memorial Day

Each year on the first Monday in May, Arizona honors its officers who have been killed in the line of duty.  This is known as Arizona Peace Officers Memorial Day.  We also observe National Peace Officers Memorial Day, on May 15th, which coincides with Police Week.

I’ve noticed that flags are typically lowered on two separate occasions for military, law enforcement, and firefighter deaths.  What are these occasions?

In Arizona, our fallen heroes (armed service members, law enforcement officers, or firefighters killed in the line of duty) are honored by lowering flags (1) on the day of the announcement of death and (2) on the day of interment.  

For how long are flags to be flown at half-staff?

The time frame can vary depending on the circumstances; but typically flags are flown on the specified date for one day from sunrise until sunset.  

As an example of a rare occurrence, in accordance with the U.S. Flag Code, U.S. flags are lowered for 30 days upon the death of a President or former President.  For other instances, see 4 U.S.C. § 7(m).

In accordance with state law, the state flag shall be lowered on the death of an incumbent elective state officer for a period of seven days beginning on the day following the death of the officer.   

If a half-staff period is longer than one 24-hour period, am I supposed to remove the flag at sunset each day?

Pursuant to the U.S. Flag Code, it is “the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.”  Additionally, the flag, “when flown at half-staff, should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position.  The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day.”  This could be interpreted to mean that flags on unlit flagstaffs should be removed each evening at sunset while flags on flagstaffs that are illuminated may remain at half-staff until the half-staff period is over.

Are there situations in which only the Arizona flag is flown at half-staff?

If a half-staff notice does not specify that only Arizona flags should be lowered, then it should be interpreted that both the American and Arizona flags should be lowered.  U.S. Flag Code provides the governors of each state the latitude to lower the American flag “in the event of the death of a present or former official of the government of any State…or the death of a member of the Armed Forces from any State...”  Based on this provision of the U.S. Flag Code, the current policy is to lower both flags for the death and interment of a current law enforcement official, firefighter, or military member who dies in the line of duty.  However, the Governor has the power to lower the Arizona flag for any reason.  While it is a rare occurrence, this does happen occasionally.

I’m a private business/non-profit organization.  Am I required to fly our flags at half-staff upon the Governor’s order?

No.  However, the Governor encourages participation by all Arizonans – individuals, businesses, and other organizations.  Additionally, a 2008 Congressional Research Service report suggests that “the provisions of the Flag Code on flying the flag at half-staff are, like all the Code’s provisions, a guide only. They do not apply, as a matter of law, to the display of the flag at half-staff by private individuals and organizations. No federal restrictions or court decisions are known that limit such an individual’s lowering his own flag or that make such display alone a form of desecration.” 

How do I sign up to receive half-staff notifications?

Opt in by submitting your email address using the form in the sidebar of this page.

Why do I sometimes receive notices late in the day?

The Governor orders flags to be lowered to half-staff only after receiving official notification of the name of the deceased. In the event of the death of a police officer or firefighter, official notice comes from the respective police or fire departments and typically occurs on the day of the incident. This may, however, result in a late-in-the-day notice to lower flags. More prolonged delays occur with the death of active duty military or guard members. In those cases, half-staff notices are sent only after the Department of Defense has notified the next of kin. This frequently causes a delay in the release of a half-staff notification. Police officers, firefighters, and military members who are killed in the line of duty are honored twice:

    1. on the day of the announcement of death and
    2. on the day of their interment. 
I have received half-staff notices in the past but I am currently having problems receiving them.  Why?

There are various reasons why you may not be receiving half-staff notices any more.  Try the following steps:

(1) Check in your SPAM or Junk Mail folder.  Your email system or server may have had security updates and is now recognizing half-staff notices as junk email.

(2) Check with your IT staff to determine if there is a problem on your end.

(3) If the notices are not in your SPAM or Junk Mail folder, contact the half-staff distribution list administrator to find out if you’re still on the half-staff list.  

a. You or someone you forwarded the message to may have inadvertently removed your email from the distribution list.  

b. Another possibility, if your email system or server started recognizing the half-staff notices as SPAM or coming from a malicious actor, may be that the notices have been black-listed and no longer allowed into your network.  When this occurs, the messages bounce back to the half-staff distribution system.  After three bounces, the half-staff subscriber is removed automatically from the list.  If you were removed, you should speak with your IT staff about ways to ensure the half-staff notices are white listed and seen as “safe.”

(4) If all else fails, contact the half-staff distribution list administrator and a last resort may include connecting your IT staff with our IT staff for trouble-shooting.

What guidance exists regarding the proper destruction of the State of Arizona flag?

In 1997, the Forty-third Legislature recognized that Arizona’s statutes do not address the proper method of disposal for a worn or damaged state flag. In order to provide some guidance, the legislature adopted a concurrent resolution (SCR 1011) advocating for the respectful burning of Arizona flags that have ceased to be an appropriate symbol for display. The resolution outlines the following recommended guidelines for a retirement ceremony:

The ceremony begins with a welcome or opening statement indicating that those in attendance have gathered to pay their last respects to the retiring Arizona state flag. A prayer is optional, but the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag is recited. A short history of the Arizona state flag is appropriate, followed by a song and a statement that proper respect for a worn or damaged flag dictates that it be burned with reverence. The actual disposal then begins: two people hold the flag as a third person cuts off the stripes, one at a time. After all stripes are cut, they are placed on the fire one at a time as the name of the thirteen original colonies are announced--Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island. The star is then cut out and placed in the fire, followed by the remainder of the flag. Another song may then be sung and a closing prayer or other benediction is read in conclusion. http://www.azleg.state.az.us/legtext/43leg/1r/bills/scr1011p.htm

What guidance exists regarding the flying of the POW/MIA flag?

State statute (38-449) requires the POW/MIA flag to be displayed at the following locations on any day when the United States flag is displayed:

1. The state capitol building.
2. The building that serves as the location of the superior court in a county.
3. The building that serves as the city or town hall of each incorporated city or town.
4. The building that serves as the main administrative building of each county.

Additionally, the statute requires that when the POW/MIA flag is displayed with the United State flag on a single staff, the POW/MIA flag shall be displayed below the Arizona state flag. When flags are displayed on multiple staffs, the Arizona flag shall always be displayed to the honor of the United States flag.
Furthermore, federal law (36 U.S. Code 902) requires the POW/MIA flag to be flown on certain holidays (e.g., Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, etc.) at specified federal facilities, landmarks, and buildings (e.g., the Capitol, the White House, national cemeteries, major military installations, etc.).